The rule of the cane

I come from a middle-class Indian family, where values were taught and reinforced in both myself and my brother from early childhood. To excel in our studies was considered of paramount importance, as my parents believed that only a good education with a strong value system would ensure success in life.

As my father was the only breadwinner of our family, he could not devote time to take care of our day-to-day chores and studies, so my mother was in charge – and she was the disciplinarian at home, too. She was both caring and strict – she knew how to balance love and fear.

We were born in an era when almost all households, let alone schools, kept a cane to discipline the children. Ours were also no exception. Our mom believed that feeling pain for misbehaviour was the most effective way to put a child in his or her place. Although we knew it was for our own good (and that is clearer still as I look back on my memories from the perspective of being a mother myself), naturally there are still many which are unpleasant to revisit in my mind.

My mother used to buy straight rattan canes, which featured a loop of cord or leather at one end to facilitate hanging. I remember vividly the selection of canes on display in our study at home, and the constant reminder they provided to be good, studious children.

We would sometimes accompany our mother to visit a school stationery shop to buy some items for us. Often she would go into the corner where a stack of canes was on display. She would carefully inspect and occasionally buy a new one. Needless to say, this caused us great embarrassment, especially when other people were in the shop, who would have no doubt that your bottom or hand would be feeling the sting of that cane in the near future.

Of course, it is natural to want to escape when faced with a threat, but we knew that trying to avoid being caned would only result in an even more severe beating. So we learned to fight the urge to run and accept the strokes that had been prescribed.

I well remember the whistling sound of the swishing cane as our mother ‘warmed up’ for the actual beating, practising the aim and motion. These are undoubtedly among the scariest few seconds of childhood. The ‘warm up’ only lasted about ten seconds but it felt like ten hours of psychological pain.

We had a weekly spelling test at school, and for every mark short of full marks, we would be given one stroke of the cane on our palms by mother upon our return home. Even more frightening were school report days. Mom would carefully review our report cards and anything below 90% would be dealt with severely.

The cane was in such frequent and strong use in our household that occasionally one would break. Mom would not be phased by this, as she always had a good stock in reserve. When the cane broke, whether across hand or bottom, we would feel a certain sense of pride for being so tough, even though we might be crying and wincing in pain.

Despite being an experienced and competent caner, Mom would nevertheless sometimes miss our bottoms and hit the top of our thighs by mistake. It was in such circumstances that we found that the cane hurts a lot more on the thighs than the buttocks, even when the latter are bared. Sometimes, when we were being caned on the hand, instinct would get the better of us and we would involuntarily move slightly before the stroke fell, occasionally resulting in the cane hitting the tips of our fingers instead. This was even more painful.

Even the best behaved children enjoy playing pranks on their parents and on several occasions my brother or I threw the cane away in a bid to avoid punishment. I’m not sure why we did this, as we knew Mom probably had some spares somewhere and even the necessity to buy a replacement would involve only a short trip out to pretty much any local shop. In those days, child punishment canes were to be found pretty much everywhere.

Anyway, these games stopped completely after Mom found a solution. One day, on returning home, we found a long and thin wooden showcase hanging on the wall. The family canes were hanging up there – protected by a glass door with a combination lock!

Probably worse than the caning itself were the marks the rod left on our bodies for a while. Stripes across your palm were there for everyone – neighbours, relatives and friends – to see, which was highly embarrassing. Of course, marks on our bottoms were at least hidden by pants or skirts, but even these would be seen when we had to change for PE at school, and our friends (and sometimes even the teacher) would tease us about having been a naughty boy or girl.

Sometimes, I think, Mom would realise that the punishment had indeed been too harsh. When this happened, she would come to us at bedtime and shower us with her love by embracing us, while applying some soothing cream over the red lines and welts she had administered.

At such times, she would also often say that caning us hurt her more than it hurt our hands or bottoms. Naturally, I thought this was absolute nonsense – until I became a mother myself.

Now, like my own mom, I also firmly believe that sparing the rod is spoiling the child, and my pre-teen son also receives his fair share of the cane, across both his bottom and his hands, whenever he has earned it.

Contributor: Uma

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